Monday, February 5, 2001

Smells Like Dojo Spirit

I've had three "first hand" experiences with the martial arts. When I was in high school a young woman told me I looked like Bruce Lee. Judging by her redneck slurred speech I don't think she was being complimentary.

In college one of my favorite movies was The Karate Kid. I love the scene, and to this day it breaks my heart to watch, when Daniel (Ralph Macchio) goes to his neighborhood dojo to take some karate lessons in order to fight the bully that is constantly kicking his butt who also happens to be dating the girl Daniel has his eye on. As the club members bow to their master, Daniel's enthusiasm turns to pure horror as he sees the one leading the drills is his tormentor. The look on his face says it all- it's better to get yourself thumped around physically than it is to have your heart torn out.

I became the co-sports editor of the college weekly along with my pal Spunky and immediately the athletes of the school voiced their displeasure of our coverage of their activities. We decided to address their concerns by devoting an entire week's edition to the school's martial arts teams. It didn't deter us that the school had no visible programs in that area other than a Tae Kwondo class that was being offered by the phy ed department. One of the stories that I wrote for that issue said that I was Ralph Macchio's stunt man in Karate Kid and that my exhaustive training included the old Asian tradition of soaking my hands in pickle juice to toughen them up. I don't think anyone besides Spunky and myself saw the humor in that issue but geez the two of us laughed up a storm.

A few months later one of the college's adult students approached me after a class and said her son wanted to meet me and if I wouldn't mind giving him an autograph.

Last year the final corner to my martial arts triangle was completed as a friend loaned me her Taebo tape. I'm afraid the most exercise I got from that program was putting it in my VCR and plopping myself down on the couch to watch. I'm not sure that exactly improved my cardiovascular condition. My heart was warmed however on the evening my friend demonstrated her Taebo moves to me and to the unforgettably cute curious faces of her two dogs, master Kurbie the Rat Terrier, and the late great Sammie, a Schipperke. Kurbie and Sammie looked at their mama as if she had gone stark raving bonkers but still they were content that she'd work it out of her system eventually. I'm sure they were used to seeing her put her heart into the matter. I'll never quite be capable of getting that scene out of my system.

Last Tuesday I went with a colleague, the volunteer firefighter's daughter who holds a green belt in Tae Kwondo, to the nearest dojo. She recently moved here from Iowa where she had earned her impressive belt. Now suffering full Tae Kwondo withdrawal she has eagerly been looking for a place where she can resume her training. As she described the art to me I began to feel it was exactly what these old bones needed.

It's not exactly unusual for me to be in a room full of people that can beat me up (and frankly, quite often they do) but it was strange being in a room full of people who could kick my face through the ceiling. As I watched the group of students go through their stretching and warm up routines while the guy in front of me went through his "forms" I glanced over at my colleague. Somehow I couldn't imagine such a reserved, mild mannered person (who happens to be a terrific writer to boot) kicking the crap out of an opponent. Remind me not to get on her bad side.

While the group diligently practiced their kicks an orange belted guy in the middle of the room began to get a rosy shade of red. Soon he was somewhat hunched over and approaching the back of the room where we stood. Staff asked if he was OK and then he began to heave. He quickly came back to the garbage can and continued his heaving. "Have to honest, I have to quit smoking," he gasped.

On my way home I looked for the appropriate tape to play to listen to and cap off my unusual evening. I pulled out my Joan Jett compilation which was perfect for the moment. "I don't give a damn about my bad reputation..." As I got home I turned on Buffy and wondered if my colleague could hold her own against the slayer. Believe me, I wouldn't bet against it.

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